Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Pier Race that became the Fish & Chips Interclub

Saturday May 16th and an awfully big adventure beckons.

Looking awesome downwind wearing the camera-hat
Today we’re heading round to Bournemouth to race home from Boscombe Pier; or Bournemouth Pier if we’re feeling really brave. For weeks we planned this and the forecast has been looking good for a few days. I’ve washed my sailing gear, plucked my nose hair and waxed my Kahunas. I’m looking forward to this.
Forecasts don’t always become actual weather, however, and today it’s blowing a stubborn 20 to 25 knots from the west. A quick call to Ken from Highcliffe and we agree to postpone and wait for the wind to drop. 30 minutes later, another postponement. Our sailors seem keen to go – we have Vicky, Jack Acton, Gary, Stacey, Ela, Luke, Tony and me. Tony says it’s too windy and heads for the shelter of Waitrose. Luke planned a camping trip which coincided with the exact time he was supposed to be at Boscombe pier. We’re two men down.  The bar opens. I resign myself to an afternoon’s drinking on the Club balcony and order a lager.
Half way through the lager I’m starting to feel invincible again.
Another call with Ken and we decide that Bournemouth maybe too much of a challenge but he assures me the sea is looking lovely today and we should go racing in the bay. I look at my club-mates with their eager little faces, down the rest of my lager and utter the immortal words of Lord Horatio Nelson “Fuck it, let’s go sailing”
Eager to record this momentous event and looking for innovative ways to look stupid, I’ve strapped my camcorder to a bright orange cycle helmet. For the next two hours I will film my orange cycle helmet from a distance of 2 inches. I need to figure out how to point the camera at the boat, not my head.
There’s no water – the plan was to sail out at low tide. Our boats fall off the slipway but we launch safely. Nearing the Run I see Ben Green approaching from the Highcliffe beach in his RS300. He flaps nervously at the top of the Run, maybe waiting to see what I do. He doesn’t know I’m drunk and my bright orange camera hat gives the impression of confidence.  I cruise past on the ebb tide and he follows.
2 minutes later an almighty crunch alerts me to the presence of the beach. I’m less than a foot from land. The land is right underneath my boat – I can’t see it. I raise the rudder and a slightly mangled dagger board. The tide floats me out past the last channel buoys and I make it into deeper water. I guess I’m not coming back into the harbour for a couple of hours.
I should mention the wind. I was mentally avoiding the fact that it was still gusting over 20 knots. It still is. Leaving the shelter of the shore the 1st gust strikes me and I’m very nearly in. The encounter with the sea-bed moments earlier sobered me up and my confidence disappears. “Where’s the start?” enquires Vicky as she sails past. “Out there” I reply with a slight tremor in my voice, rather like Scooby Doo. We bear away onto a run and head out to sea.
Back in the harbour, meanwhile, Stacey and Ela have brought the RS Feva out to play. Stacey orders more kicker. Ela obliges and snaps the kicker. They spend a long time rebuilding the boat and miss the first start. I’m not so lucky. I’m in time for the race.
1st race
We have 17 or 18 boats including an RS200, a Dart 15 catamaran and two RS300’s. Ben has only had his a couple of months but he’s younger than my wetsuit and looks lean mean and focused. Will youth triumph over experience today?
There’s a whole lot of pin end bias on the line and only the RS200 and I have gone there. The RS200 elects for a port tack flyer but I’m too close and he ducks behind. First blood to the old guy. Ben is towards the committee boat and surrounded by lasers. I head out on starboard for a couple of minutes.
At least the head-gear diverts attention away from the hiking style

 It’s pretty full on so I’ve flattened the rig down to about 80% of max and concentrate on sailing flat and fast. No lane holding needed here and when I tack back onto port I’m crossing everyone by a reasonable distance. I catch a bad shift up towards the top mark as I come back on starboard and the Dart and RS200 are just behind with Ben about 50 metres back – my lead was halved but I round ahead and bear away and…oh shit it’s windy! 
Overtaken by a reefed Wanderer
I’m hanging on for dear life as the boat launches itself across the top reach. A big gust – the boom hits the water – I’m going in. Well, not quite – I pretty much shat myself but managed to pull it back and powered across to the 2nd mark. Too busy to look back I forget the race and focus on nailing the bear away onto the run. I make it – just – some big wobbles but I’m heading back downwind. If someone takes a photo know I’m going to look like a stupid blue blob wearing an orange hat, trying to lay an egg. Does anyone look elegant sailing a 300 downwind in a big breeze? No time to worry about that now – I have to gybe. 
My trademark "I'm about to give birth" position
Do I hang on and get it done at the bottom mark or take the chance to get it done early? I’m still feeling artificially brave owing to the effects of the lager so I go for it and gybe early. No major worries and a short close reach takes me to the end of lap 1. I manage to look back and see I’m a couple hundred metres clear. Ben takes a bath on the 1st or 2nd lap which puts him out of contention and I hang on without any complete disasters for 5 laps when Ken finally shortens the course.
I’m tired but pretty happy with my race. I remove the helmet and my sunglasses and hand them to my brother in the RIB. Getting to my little food bag up by the mast is more difficult. I manage to grab a fresh water bottle and a banana without falling in but eating between races is a challenge. Toilet breaks are less of an issue – not crapping myself on the downwind legs is the issue.
Race 2.
It feels like the wind has eased. Stacey and Ela are in this race but Vicky has decided to sit this one out. I was so busy trying to sail that I hardly noticed the numbers of other boats that were capsizing and generally having a tough time. I definitely got more used to the conditions as the race progressed but confidence turns to complacency all too easily. I’m due for a slap.
The start of this race is more even and the RS200 team are going better. I’m away cleanly but the 200 leads at the top mark and kites it across the first reach, giving me no passing opportunity. Ben is fairly close but another swim puts paid to his challenge for the time being.
It wasn't my fault, honest

Asymmetrics and cats can’t go dead downwind so the 300 glides past on the run and I take a narrow lead into lap 2.
Feeling more confident in the lighter breeze and needing to push a bit I begin to ease controls on the next downwind legs. I really shouldn’t have done that. ¾ of the way down the 2nd run an almighty gust hits – maybe 25 knots. I’m well forward with half kicker and no downhaul.  The boat reacts violently and decides I’m no longer welcome on board. For a few moments we look like we’re having rodeo sex rather than sailing but finally I manage to stuff into the wind and come to a standstill. I’ve avoided a capsize but I’m parked head to wind and on the wrong side of the leeward mark.
I tack round and just about manage to launch myself at the leeward mark as the RS200 goes past. The resulting gybe isn’t pretty but I survive and head off in pursuit.
On the penultimate lap I manage to sneak past but this time I decide to throw in a “tactical” gybe in 20 knots on the run and can’t nail the bear away afterwards. Too much kicker, I think. You need lots of it until it’s time to gybe – I haven’t figured it out. Anyway, another 30 seconds lost while I get myself going again and the RS200 is all over me. 
By the finish I’m a short distance ahead but I made a few mistakes in the race which will cost me. On corrected time the RS200 has won and I’m tied for 2nd with Jack Acton who had a great race in his 4.7.
Overall I managed to win with a 1st and a joint 2nd place. The sailing was actually good for my confidence and although I made a few mistakes I was pretty happy. Luke would have bitch-slapped my lardy arse but I’m making progress. 
Feeling more comfortable upwind in a breeze

We finished the day with a fish & chip supper back at Highcliffe. Ben came over for a chat and it feels great to have another RS300 sailor nearby. We’re going to have another attempt at the Pier race later and hopefully I’ll be brave enough to go out sober next time.
What went well:
The boat usually felt comfortable upwind in a big breeze
I survived two hours of racing and was able to walk afterwards
I didn’t mind looking like a twat with the orange helmet-cam

Things to work on
Keep doing more of the same to build fitness and confidence
Use the big rudder at sea. The cut down RS200 one stalls coming out of tacks
Fix the camera mount so it actually films something
Look out for scary stuff like gusts and waves before they clobber you

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sea Series 1 & 2 - Olympic Courses with the Cruiser fleet

Today we race with the cruisers which means if you’re a dinghy on starboard they won’t see you and if you have mark room they'll have nowhere else to go.
There’s also a constant aroma of bacon butties and gin & tonic but they won’t share with dinghies.
No matter; because today I’ll be too busy sliding around the boat like a scalded cat to wine and dine with the keelboat sailors.
"We've run out of gin - summon the lifeboat"
We still call "Triangle - Sausage" courses "Olympic". This is how our club likes to remember Olympic sailing. Dragons and blazers and bearded men smoking pipes. I forgot to mention that Andy's joined Royal Lymington Yacht Club. They like a man wearing a blazer.

The forecast breeze is in the mid-teens. This is more than I’ve sailed on the sea and I’m not confident - in fact I'm downright nervous.

Determined to focus I stand in front of the mirror as I’m changing. “You’re a big sexy bear of a man. You have balls of steel and you’re ready for anything. Now come on and let’s get this done!” 

Suddenly, a toilet cubicle opens. Awkward moment. I dive for cover.

Back at the slipway, Andy has arrived to rig his Finn. He doesn’t speak to me today. Maybe he read last week’s blog.Tony, Steve, Ray and Ginge make up the rest of the Finn fleet. 

Jack Acton is ready with his 4.7. He looks sleepy. Apparently Jack, Drew and Cian had a sleep-over last night and were up till midnight flicking Haribo sweets at each other. Anyone wishing for a more innocent age should join our club. We go all dreamy at the mention of Valerie Singleton.
Who is Valerie Singleton?

With the race planned for 2pm we’ve launched early and by 1pm some of the dinghies have gone out to sea. Ela is at Mudeford Quay taking photos as we depart. Most of the sailors smile. Andy makes his “I’m not earning any money today” face.  Basically it’s a scowl.

I'd rather be selling bungalows

The harbour entrance is tricky – a long winding run along the shore surrounded by breaking waves. I’m catching a motoring Hawk in front but there’s no room to pass so I have to slow down. On a run that’s difficult but I manage to stay out of trouble until we exit the channel.

The short broad reach to the start terrifies me.  It’s gusty and I’m struggling to stay in  control with short steep waves throwing me around. I pass the start line and pause to re-group. Another stern talking to myself and I head upwind for a warm-up lap. Around the top mark and back down the two reaches of the triangle and I’m feeling a little more confident. The wind seems to be easing – in fact it’s going to die away to a whimper later but I don’t know this yet.

Back to the start to watch the cruisers.
"Today we will mostly be flying the leeward hull"
BeasleyCat is on the water again – with Graham helming. We have 5 Finns, Jack in his 4.7 plus me. 

Luke is our man down. “Powered by beer but disabled by shots.”  He’s becoming the weakest link in our RS300 fleet. I wonder whether I might finish as 1st Christchurch boat at the Nationals, simply by staying sober enough to sail some races.

Anyway – our start is uneventful apart from Ginge being OCS and having to return. We plod up the 1st beat in a dying breeze and short chop which really doesn’t suit the 300. I round the windward mark 4th but manage to get through to 2nd by the end of the triangle. The 2nd beat is shifty and I manage to hook into a couple of decent shifts, while avoiding the cruisers, and round ahead. Back down the run (which is basically a reach) and I’m about 30 metres in front of Ray and Steve.

We're off!! Except for BeasleyCat and Darren in the Topper.

Approaching the line on the next beat I see the Race Officer shortening course for the Oppies and Topper just ahead. I cross the line, hearing no sound, and continue upwind. 

Behind me, Andy, Steve, Jack, Tony and BeasleyCat all stop. Ray follows me and Jack re-joins the race. We complete another triangle and the race officer confirms we’ve sailed the correct course.   

By the time I finish Steve and Andy have left for the day and gone home. Fortunately the rest of our fleet stays out for race 2.

Race 2 is held in progressively lighter winds. I get a good start; Ray is OCS, and lead around the 1st mark. Jack and Tony are close behind and I wobble around the course without managing to shake them off. At the end I’m probably a couple of minutes ahead which may be good enough for 3rd but it won’t win the race.

Sailing home is a very long slog up the narrow channel but it’s turned into a warm afternoon and a good way to finish the weekend.

"I'm terrified but if I drown this is the smiley face I want you to remember"
What went well?
I smiled for a photograph
Andy can’t argue about his finishing time because he didn’t actually finish a race.
Gary wasn’t there – he’s still pissing off the Mudeford fleet
The Finns are heading to Greece next week so I may win a race while they’re away
I went home sober

What to improve
Don’t forget beer money next time.
Take more bottles of water – 1 isn’t enough
Fit the tacktick compass – I’m sure the wind shifted.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Racing for a mysteriously named trophy and a curious result

I’ve never been much into conspiracy theories but the recent allegations of aliens tampering with Scows and moving Finns 20mm aft has got me a little spooked. Today the aliens moved the same Finn 20mm forward and removed 5 seconds – read on…

On Monday the weather finally gave us a break as we prepared for our 1st trophy race of the season. The trophy we race for is named the “Founders Folly” It’s a strange looking little plastic obelisk with a silver bird perched on top of a ball. I’m sure some of our elderlies know its history but they’ve neglected to put it on Wikipedia.

Most of our Finns are on their way to Greece for the Masters or at Mengeham Rythe for an open-meeting. Sneaky Laser sailor has gone to race with Mudeford. (Mudeford will never forgive us) but we have an encouraging turnout of 9 boats in our fleet. Class 5 (our slow handicap fleet) has done even better with 10 boats and we also have a handful of grumpies in Scows.

The wind is light and swinging from South West to South East, making for tricky conditions in the harbour.  It’s warm and sunny, however. Vicky & Ela are our enthusiastic race team and come armed with flags and whistles. One of the grumpies asks if they’ll use the “auto-hoot”. “No” replies Ela. He wanders off, muttering about Polish immigrants coming over here and not using our auto-hoots. Another vote for UKIP, I fear.

The start line is short and the presence of Sir Richard of Beasley in a catamaran has everyone worried.

We suspect Beasley is secretly plotting an America’s Cup challenge and getting in some early practice. The hydrofoil capable of lifting him and his crew several feet off the water has yet to be invented. The laws of gravity and physics aren’t on his side. By the time he’s Commodore the scientists will have figured it out and we’ll fund our America’s Cup campaign using the proceeds from the coffee machine.

Expecting start line chaos, I’m shocked to find myself crossing an almost deserted line as the fleet follows at a respectful distance back, a few seconds later.

Poor John Ridout, on port tack, almost manages to cross the leeward hull of Beasleycat before deciding to bear away behind it. There’s a loud crash and the sound of splintering gunwale but fortunately nobody is hurt and both boats continue racing.

Andy and Rory are close behind and just to leeward. We have a beat across to number 4 and after tacking onto port we’re lane-holding for a couple of minutes. I manage to stay above Andy’s Finn (pointing high isn’t easy in the RS300) As we near the mark we split tacks and I round about 20 seconds ahead. A couple of promising reaches don’t really deliver the gap I was looking for and by the half way stage I’m probably no more than a minute ahead. Rory is joined in his pursuit of Andy by Tony’s Finn while the assorted Laser 4.7’s, Solo, Wanderer and Beasley the Cat remain in close formation a few minutes further back.

The harbour is busy today with other fleets racing and a lot of traffic in the channel. I’m nearly washed overboard when a large motor launch decides to throttle up to pass in front. Although the water drains straight out the back of my boat it doesn’t encourage me to smile. Making a frowny sex-face, I continue.
As soon as boat-handling happens I revert to "scared sex-face grimace"

47 minutes and 19 seconds after our start, I finally cross the line. I hang around for a few minutes, watching the fleet, before sailing off to chat with my rowing pals in their Australian surf boat. Andy’s about 3 minutes back so the result could be close. Rory lost contact with the Finn somewhere in the 2nd half of the race and trails in about 3 minutes behind Andy.
Working on my "look like you're having fun" pose

Ela and Vicky work out the results on the way up-river, while I practice grinning for the camera. It makes my face hurt.
Grinning is a painful business

Initially, it looks as though I may have won but Andy queries the timing and explains that he was actually 20mm further forward than he appeared because of the aliens.
How come Andy's Finn mysteriously gains 20mm and loses 5 seconds?

Suitably impressed by his claims, and knowing that estate agents never lie, Vicky sympathetically subtracts 5 seconds from his elapsed time and he wins the race by 3 seconds.  
"Watch and learn, kid" Chris impresses young Jack with his trademark "dropping the mainsheet  and diving to leeward" move

Rory finished 3rd with Tony back in 4th. Beasleycat is still sailing back up the river, as far as we can tell.